Amidst the greatest ecological disaster in the nation’s history and on the heels of the release of evidence that BP employed risky drilling procedures to save time and money, President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office this evening. The president spoke for 18 minutes and his remarks were covered by all four networks. He addressed three major areas of the BP Gulf oil spill: clean up, assisting those directly affected in the Gulf region, and preventing catastrophes in the future.

The president provided a broad outline of the number of ships and personnel that he has authorized and deployed to assist in the clean up. “We now have nearly 30,000 personnel who are working across four states to contain and cleanup the oil. Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding in the Gulf. And I have authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast.” The president also encouraged the governors in the effected states to activate the National Guard troops. Some of the governors counter that they have not activated more troops because there is not enough equipment for them to use. The politics of this problem can not get in the way of the practical solutions to this problem.

To assist those individuals and businesses that are being directly affected by this spill the president articulated both an immediate and a long-term plan. To assist those whose livelihoods have been decimated by this disaster, President Obama has pledged to meet with the chairman of BP and demand that BP set aside “whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.” He also pledged that this fund will not be controlled by BP but by an “independent third party”.

For the long-term the president is focusing on restoring the region to its pre-spill, pre-Katrina, and Rita “unique beauty and bounty”. To do this the president is calling for a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan. To develop this plan the president is calling upon “states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other Gulf residents” to participate in the process of developing the plan. Having those with vested interest involved in the plan is a great way to be sure of a more effective outcome.

Going forward the president wants to ensure that a disaster like this never happens again. To do this the president has established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and recommend better safety practices for the future. The president has also called for a six month moratorium on deepwater drilling

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Finally, President Obama used this opportunity to champion ending America’s addition to fossil fuels and tied America’s economic recovery to moving the economy to green jobs. “For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires… As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy…Only if we seize the moment.”

Overall, this was a very good speech. It was well thought out and well delivered. Unfortunately, it took the Obama administration too long to give it. Instead of speaking to the nation on day 57 of the spill, the president needed to give this address a few weeks earlier.

The president has established a “National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster…” This commission is a great idea but could be more effective if it had subpoena power and by working in conjunction with the Justice Department could hold BP officials and former officials from Mineral Management Services accountable for their actions.

What the president didn’t say was just as interesting as what he did, if not more interesting. He spoke about ”…the battle we’re waging against an oil spill…” and “we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes.” There was a clear distinction between cleaning up the spill which “we” will do (and BP will pay for) but very little mention of stopping the flow of oil which BP must do. Hearing more on how and when the oil will stop flowing would have been beneficial.

The president did say, “In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well.” The problem with this assessment is the president did not indicate who developed the estimate. Indications are that BP’s estimates have been on the low side from the very beginning. BP was estimating 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf while the US Geological Survey estimates between 30,000 – 40, 000. T. Boone Pickens projects the relief wells won’t be finished until the middle of September, not August.

In closing, the president called for prayer. “Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.” Mr. President, prayer is good but God helps those who help themselves. People in the region need to see action. If the residents of the Gulf region and the people of this country do not see action, your words will ring as hollow as your predecessor’s, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”